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Implicit racial and color bias in evaluation of ASL translations

by Cassie Lang

Poster Session

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The population demographics of the United States is changing rapidly. Approximately 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 have at least one immigrant parent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Trends in the Deaf population in the United States follow a similar trajectory to national trends (NIEC, 2016). However, the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting community remains largely homogenous: roughly 88% of members in the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf identify as White (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 2017). In investigating the needs of interpreters of Color, the National Interpreter Education Center (2016) reports experiences of bias. Students of Color report that they are perceived as less qualified than their White classmates, and working interpreters of Color report frequent requests to switch out for a White interpreter in video relay settings (NIEC, 2016). This pilot study hypothesizes that implicit racial bias is a factor when interpreters and consumers of interpreting services determine quality standards for products of ASL interpreters, specifically that White interpreter sources are preferred over non-White sources. Further, as previous studies have shown evidence of color bias (Smith-McLallen, Johnson, Dovidio & Pearson, 2006), this study hypothesizes that preference for lighter skin tones will be a contributing factor.

Seven nationally certified ASL/English interpreters were recruited for stimuli material creation. Interpreters were native users of ASL from birth and diverse in racial identity and skin tone. Interpreters watched and copied (“mirrored”) six 1-2 minute publicly available video clips as precisely as possible, preserving all linguistic and paralinguistic information from the original signer. Participants (N=12) watched five of the mirrored video clips, labeled “translations” for the purposes of blinding the study, from Interpreters A, C, D, E, and G. Participants then reported their perceptions of quality of the translations in a variety of linguistic categories. After ranking them in order of preference, participants chose to what extent in four situations (academic, personal appointment, social, platform), each interpreter would have been satisfactory for them personally given the sample of their “translation” work. Participants were recorded responding in ASL to two questions in the survey as a means to gather skin tone information. In all individual categories of evaluation, Interpreter D was shown to have the highest scores on average, followed by Interpreters A, G, C, and E. Interpreter D identified as White and Interpreter A identified as mixed White and Hispanic or Latinx. All participants regardless of their racial identity and skin tone ranked Interpreter D and Interpreter A as either #1 or #2 in all measures. Both interpreters’ skin tones were the lightest of the interpreter group.

These results appear to suggest that implicit racial bias toward lighter skin and/or White-presenting interpreters may have been a factor in perceived quality of the translations. Given that stakeholders such as interpreter trainers, colleagues, schedulers and consumers of interpreting services make decisions every day on the opportunities extended or withheld to minority interpreters, a more thorough examination into policy and practice is needed to address manifestations of implicit bias.

Through interactive dialogue, poster session attendees will:

  • demonstrate awareness of the current literature in the field on linguistic profiling and implicit bias.
  • express understanding of the study design, objectives and results based on questions and a study summary from the presenter.
  • articulate how implicit bias may affect current practices in their own work in the interpreting field, regarding text selection, ASL video evaluation, or training materials.

A white woman with long, brown wavy hair wearing red glasses smiles at the cameraCassie Lang (MAI, NIC-A, SC:L) is a doctoral student in the Department of Interpretation and Translation at Gallaudet University. She received an AAS degree in Interpretation from Saint Paul College, a BA from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Music Education and Spanish, and a Masters of Interpretation from Gallaudet University. She served on the board of the Minnesota chapter of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and actively mentors student interpreters. She would like to thank the Deaf communities of Wisconsin’s Fox Valley and Minnesota’s Twin Cities for their friendship and mentoring as she grew up. Her research interests include identity development, interpreting internationally, and applying social justice principles to interpreter education. She loves to travel, garden, and make pottery.